Friday, January 31, 2014

Freeze Frame

This is a great listening comprehension activity which I learned a few years ago at an ACL Summer Institute. It will require whiteboards - in my experience, I have found that students love any activity involving white boards. It is very similar to a dictatio but instead of students writing down the sentences, they will draw it.
  1. You, the teacher, draw a picture beforehand (using known vocabulary words and language structures) and then write a description of the picture in Latin. The more random the picture, the better!
  2. Explain to students that you are going to read a description to them, and their task is to draw a picture of what you read to them
  3. Inform students that you will read the description four times.
  4. Read the description slowly first without them drawing anything. Get them to formulate a picture in their own minds first.
  5. Then read the description three times slowly. By the third reading, students will almost be done with their picture, but inform students that during the fourth reading, they should confirm that their drawing is correct.
  6. After the fourth reading, ask students to show their picture to two other classmates and to describe the picture in Latin
  7. Ask students to hold up their drawing for you. Walk around the class, commenting on students’ drawings
  8. Using an overhead projector, project your picture for students to see. If the picture has been digitally scanned, project the picture onto a screen using a computer projector.
  9. Ask comprehension questions in Latin about the picture 
  10. If you have a document camera, then take a few students' whiteboards and project their picture onto the screen. This is actually very fun, as students get to see each other's work.
An example of a Freeze Frame picture and description:

est nox, et luna est in caelo. multi nubes sunt in caelo. tempestas quoque est in caelo. cantantes umbrae quoque sunt in caelo. interea, tres puellae sunt in silva. prima puella pecuniam in manibus tenet. avis in capite primae puellae stat. secunda puella a tertia puella trahitur.  

Friday, January 24, 2014


When I first heard about using dictationes in the target language with students, I had my immediate doubts purely because of what the activity was: it was a dictation exercise. What benefit could students gain from hearing me read sentences aloud in Latin and from writing them down word for word? To me, it sounded incredibly boring and not very interactive or engaging for students.

I, however, decided to give it a try and am now convinced of its benefits. This is now how I begin a new chapter. Here is how to do a dictatio:

  1. Look at your upcoming chapter and choose the vocabulary/language structures which you want to introduce. I have found that students can begin to acquire as many as 8-9 new vocabulary words in a dictatio (whereas in a TPRS story, I usually only focus on 3-4 new words).
  2. Compose around 10-12 sentences in Latin using these new words/structures. I tend to make the dictatio a story in order to make it somewhat compelling for students and so that the sentences do not seem disjointed on their own. I have colleagues who will use the model sentences in CLC as a dictatio. The key part is that the sentences need to be comprehensible for students. Repeat new words/structures as many times as you can in a dictatio; get in the reps!
  3. Write the sentences on an overhead or on a word document, as you will be projecting them for students to see in order to correct any spelling mistakes after they write them down.
  4. When it comes to a dictatio, I tell students to get out a clean sheet of paper and that we will be doing one; by this point, they know the drill.
  5. I tell them the following (a variation of the directions found on, and like Bob Patrick's says in those directions, I say it to them as if it is the first time that they are doing it):
    • this is a listening, comprehension and writing exercise
    • their job is write down the Latin sentence which I am saying as best as they can
    • I will repeat the sentence three times slowly. By the end of the 2nd repetition, they should have it written down completely so that during the 3rd time, they are just verifying what they have written.
    • after the 3rd time, I will project the sentence on the screen, and their job is to make any types of spelling corrections. If they need to make a correction, they are to cross off the word and to rewrite it either above or below the word. If the sentence is written correctly, they are to write “optime” next to the sentence.
    • following this, if there are words/forms which they do not know, they are to raise their hand and ask. I will give them the English meaning.
    • after this, I will proceed to the next sentence.
    • this is a quiz grade so if they do what I say (i.e., write down the sentence as I say it, make any corrections to it, write the word optime if the sentence is correct), then this is an easy 100%
    6.  After we complete the entire dictatio, I collect them and then I project the sentences again
         on the board, and we do a group choral translation of the dictatio in order to establish
    7.  I do take a look at the dictationes afterwards but since they are self-corrected, I do not have
         to do anything other than verify that students either corrected their sentences or wrote the
         word optime and then enter their grade in my gradebook.
  • In some ways, a dictatio can seem like a very passive activity, but wow, due to the listening, writing and comprehension aspects of it, students truly do internalize these new words/forms very quickly
  • If you never have had students write in the target language before, this is a non-threatening way to get them started, since they are not composing
  • It is not the most engaging activity for students and as a teacher it can be rather boring just reading sentences aloud, but the benefits outweigh the lack of engagement factor
  • Afterwards when I look over the dictationes, it helps me see what kinds of spelling errors students are making, how much of that was my fault due to the way I was reading it, and what kinds of things do I need to address better, e.g., did I make it clear that a particular word was one word and not two when I said it, what particular Latin pronunciation sounds are difficult for students to correlate in writing, e.g, long e vs. short e.
  • Due to the vast number of repetitions, students really do catch onto the way Latin sounds subconsciously and are able to mimic those pronunciations on their own in later activities
  • Remember that the sentences need to be comprehensible. I would never read sentences from Caesar's De Bello Gallico or Vergil's Aeneid to my AP students as a dictatio, because I do not think that student would understand what they were writing down.

An example of a dictatio (stage 17 CLC)

New Words to be introduced
1) benignus
2) insulam
3) diu
4) pervenit
5) maximus
6) multitudo
7) exanimatus
1) Joseph est benignus iuvenis, et ad insulam navigat
2) Joseph ad insulam navigat, quod vult invenire benignam uxorem.
3) Joseph diu navigat, et tamen insulam pervenit.
4) postquam Joseph insulam pervenit, vidit maximum templum.
5) in maximo templo est multitudo feminarum pro ara.
6) Joseph templum pervenit, et clamat, “O feminae, quis vult esse mea uxor?!”
7) feminae non respondent diu, et tamen una femina Josephem pulsat.
8) Joseph est exanimatus diu, et in ara excitat.
9) feminae Josephem in ara sacrificant; feminae in hac insula non sunt benignae.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Grammar is Not One of the 5 C's

Much like most of you: I love grammar. I love the structure of a sentence and taking it apart. I consider myself to be the "King of Parsing" - I can easily tell you about a word in a particular Latin sentence, giving you everything (and more) about its form and function without even thinking - it just seems to roll off of my tongue. As Latin was taught in a grammar-translation fashion when I was in high school and in college, this is why I loved the subject - it came very natural. NOTE - I am still shocked that I was planning to major in Sports Medicine at UCLA.

But let's be honest: grammar is not language itself. To quote Kato Lomb, a self-taught polyglot: "One learns grammar from language, not language from grammar." That does not mean that grammar does not have its place, but just not the HUGE, OVERARCHING, EXPLICIT and ALL-ENCOMPASSING place which we have given it in the past. As my dear friend Donna Gerard has said, “Grammar is not one of the 5 C’s” (referring to the 5 C’s of the ACTFL Standards for 21st Century Language Learners).
The grammar-translation books from which most of us learned Latin had the paradigm chart at the beginning of the chapter with a lengthy explanation of a particular grammar topic. Next came a list of somewhat random vocabulary words. Following that were even-more random sentences using the vocabulary and grammar in order to get in some practice. If we were lucky, there was a short story to read in Latin (I do not ever remember reading stories in the Jenney book when I was in high school). We spent time in class conjugating verbs and declining nouns aloud, writing out synopsis of verbs and parsing isolated words for their possibilities. We learned songs to memorize our noun declension endings. For vocabulary quizzes, we wrote out the dictionary entries for the nouns and all four principal parts of the verb. To us, this was Latin. As 4%ers, we loved it. But 96% of our own students do not, as it has no bearing in their lives.
When one gets right down to it, is it really important for students to know grammar, as in being able to name that the verb is 3rd-person, plural, imperfect, subjunctive, passive used in a relative clause of characteristic, if they understand what that word means in that context? In math, is it truly important for students to know the term additive inverse if they understand how to do that particular math problem?
But shouldn’t students know grammar? I heard at ACTFL this past November that parents have 100% success rate in teaching language to their children and that they never teach explicit grammar to them. You will never hear a parent say to their 2-year old child, “It looks to me like you have mastered the use of the present tense, so let’s move on to the imperfect tense. You are now ready to start talking about an event which has happened in the past but yet is either habitual or is in motion at the time of discussion.” Parents simply speak to their children in understandable, contextual messages and pattern language for their children to mimic. Essentially, that is what we should be doing with our students.
So how does one teach grammar in a Comprehensible Input classroom? Let’s dispel a myth by establishing that grammar is indeed taught in a CI approach; it just is not the centerpiece of a lesson. Just introduce a new grammar concept in an obvious, understandable way.
This is how I taught present participles (stage 20 CLC) last semester:
Day 1 - Dictatio where present participles were used in a story, but the meaning was obvious based on the context. Students wrote out the sentences in Latin as I dictated it to them, and afterwards, if they did not understand the meaning of a word or form, especially a participle, they asked, and I told them the meaning. Following the dictatio, we did a group translation in English of those sentences and quite honestly, many were able to translate the participle correctly due to the context. I never said the word participle nor got into an explanation of the form.
Days 2-3 - TPR and TPRS storytelling where present participles were used. In TPR, an example:
Teacher: O Joseph, bibe aquam (Joseph begins to drink the water).
O discipuli, videtisne Josphem bibentem aquam? (ita).
Ita, videtis Josephem bibentem aquam. O discipuli, videtisne Josephem bibentem an consumentem aquam? (bibentem)
Ita, videtis Josephem bibentem aquam. O discipuli, videtisne Josephem consumentem aquam? (minime)
Minime, non videtis Josephem consumentem aquam. quam ridiculum! videtis Josephem bibentem aquam. What do you think bibentem means? (drinking). Yes, bibentem means “drinking.”
In a TPRS story, this time, I wrote the participles on the board with their English meaning and pointed to the words whenever I used them. I circle-questioned the participle form in order to get in repetitions. Over these two days, students started to catch onto the form based on context and sounds; acquisition was subconscious due to the amount of repetitions. If a student asked about the -nt- or -ns, I explained that it meant “_____ing” but I did not make a big deal about it.
Days 4-5 - As a class, we read through a short story where present participles were used. I read through it aloud first, while I acted it out. Again, I wrote the participles from the story on the board along with their English meaning and pointed to them when they were used. We then did a read/discuss in Latin and then did a read/draw. Following that, the class did a timed-write in Latin of that story. Still no major discussion about participles.
Day 6 - Word Chunk Game, where many of the sentences had present participles in them but the meaning was obvious based on context.
Day 7 - As a class, we read through another short story where present participles were used. Finally, I began to do short 30-second “grammar timeouts” in English and explicitly brought attention to the -nt- or -ns and told them that it meant “_______ing.” - I said “Whenever you see a word wearing PANTS, that means “______ing.” This was done for those students who need explicit explanations (in reality, I have found that many of these types of students have already figured it out but they just want explicit confirmation). So as we continued reading, I took a time-out, saying something like “”Hey, this word is wearing PANTS - what does that tell us?” or “How did we know to saying running and not ran or was running? Yep, it’s wearing PANTS!” Although I now use the term participle, I do not use the full term present active participle. I just do not think that it is necessary.
Day 8 - micrologue story involving present participles.
By the end of the chapter, students were pretty familiar with present participles, and I never had to create a worksheet for them to practice the structure. Have they mastered the present participle yet and are able to use them? Not at all - as language acquisition is a spiral and not linear in fashion, that will come over time as they experience more of these forms in context.
So university Classics departments and College Board AP Latin folks: asking students to know labels and parts of speech explicitly is not language itself. Grammar is not one of the 5 C’s

Friday, January 10, 2014

Word Chunk Game

I learned this activity at the 2013 Pedagogy Rusticatio, and it is one which i find students either love or hate (meaning, if their team wins, they love the game, but if their team loses, they hate it). The Word Chunk game is a combination of translating sentences aloud into English and trashketball. It is a truly competitive game and can get rather intense depending on your students.

The basics of the game: teams compete to be the first to translate aloud correctly Latin sentences into English. Bob Patrick gave me directions for this game (and Bob got them from Ben Slavic's blog), and with Bob's permission, I post them here.

This game is both low stress on the teacher (unless students having lots of fun in your classroom stresses you out!) AND while having fun an intense vehicle of language acquisition. It is used with material, a story for example that you have already been working on with students, so I think of this as a Friday kind of activity to review a story, especially with structures or vocabulary that has been challenging. First the set up; then the procedures:
  • Students are divided into small groups (3-6 per group, depending on class size. 3 is better but in huge classes you may have to go with larger groups)
  • Groups are in small circles around the edges of the room so that there is a long alley down the middle of the room.
  • At one end of the room, a box is set up on a stool/desk that approximates a basket.
  • 3-6 whiffle/tennis/jelly balls are lined up at a “free throw line” some 15 feet or so away from “the basket”. (how many balls depends on the size of your groups)
  • Teacher pulls sentences directly from the story which you have been reading in class, but you can also edit them to focus on what you want to focus on.
  • Create numbered slips of paper for each team TWICE, i.e., if there are 7 groups, then create 14 slips of paper, each numbered 1-7.
  • Put these slips in a ziploc bag, bowl, hat, etc.
  • Each group must come up with a name for itself, in Latin.
  • The game proceeds like this. Teacher reads the first sentence slowly, aloud, and continues to do so, over and over again. Group members huddle together and decide, together, what the sentence means. 
  • THEN, ask a team to pull a slip of paper from the bag. Announce the team name which corresponds to that number
  • THEN (very important--this prevents one person from doing all the work) the teacher calls on someone in the group to give the answer. ONLY that person can answer, and if the group feeds the answer, they are disqualified. HOWEVER, if the person makes a mistake, group members may correct it. The teacher must distinguish between FEEDING the answer and offering CORRECTIONS. Corrections are allowed. Feeding the answer is not. Because the group never knows who the teacher will call on, they learn very quickly that everyone must know what the sentence means before they raise their hands
  • Students may request that the Latin sentence be repeated again AS MANY TIMES as they want when called on to translate
  • If the person called on gives the correct English meaning of the sentence, the team receives TWO points goes to the free-throw line and shoots for points. Team receives one additional point for every basket scored. Teacher or student keeps score.
  • If the person does not give the correct English and the group cannot correct mistakes, the teacher pulls another slip of paper and the process is repeated.
  • After a team has completed shooting baskets, do not return their number right away. That team still has one number in the bowl/bag, but everyone else still has two. Return that number after the next round. Complete the process for each round.
This is a listening and comprehension game. They are “re-reading” old material, which is always good. They are helping each other understand. Because you can focus on certain structures or words, and because you are reading slowly, clearly, over and over again, they are getting multiple repetitions of Latin that they otherwise would not have done on their own. Students swear by how helpful this game is. My problem is not overusing it. - Bob Patrick

Now back to me. Here are my personal observations about the game:
  • This is a great CI activity due to the sheer number of repetitions said aloud, which is actually what you want.
  • This is not a game to do right away if your students are not familiar with hearing Latin spoken aloud in a context, such as in a dictation or a story told aloud. Your students need to be somewhat familiar with the sounds of Latin.
  • As the teacher, I myself will create the teams so that there are no “stacked” teams
  • I myself create the sentences as part of a larger continuous story, but I will be sure to use vocabulary, language structures and familiar phrases which we have done in dictations, TPRS stories, readings, etc. ad nauseam so that it is 100% comprehensible for students. In other words, students are already familiar with hearing these words/forms aloud in Latin in a context.
  • I do not make the sentences too long, because it is easy for students to get lost and to feel overwhelmed. You as the teacher do not want to raise anyone’s affective filter in this game. Sometimes, i will read a very short sentence on purpose to give everyone a fair chance.
  • I personally love this activity, because I am amazed how it does further language acquisition in disguise of a game. I truly do not think that students realize just how much this activity helps them.
So give it a try - you’ll be surprised both by the results and the fun which you and your students will have.